How Career Centers Can Leverage Alumni and Parent Engagement to Advance Institutional Goals

This guest post was adapted from the 2016 NACE Conference presentation, "Leveraging Alumni and Parent Engagement to Advance Institutional Goals," by the following authors:

Teresa Olsen, Associate Vice President of Institutional Advancement & Director of Career Services, Colgate University

Mary Raymond, Director and Associate Dean of the Career Development Office, Pomona College

Beth Throne, Associate Vice President, Office of Student and Post Graduate Development, Franklin & Marshall College

In today’s market, colleges and universities must demonstrate success in preparing and launching their students into the professional world. Although not the sole metric, these indicators are key factors in how institutions are perceived by prospective families, the federal government, college rankings, recruiters, admissions committees, and the media. The career services team is central to this success; leveraging alumni and parent engagement is a prime factor in this equation. 

This dynamic is not surprising. Colleges and universities have been tapping alumni as panelists, recruiting contacts, and donors for years. However, the alumni and parent engagement landscape has changed significantly in recent years. In that, the orchestration by career services teams to conduct their own initiatives while concurrently impacting institutional goals has become a nuanced advantage. The following examples from our NACE Conference presentation illustrate unique initiatives that have significantly moved the dial on distinct institutional priorities.

Pomona College

Pomona logo

Academic institutions thrive when students are able to articulate the value of their classroom learning in relation to students’ ability to succeed in an area of professional interest. Likewise, faculty and career services offices are asked to demonstrate the variety of paths possible launching with a certain major. Pomona College’s Career Development Office, under the leadership of Director and Associate Dean Mary Raymond, launched Sophomore Reorientation to do just that. Featuring alumni panelists, this program displays how former students of different majors have applied their liberal arts education to succeed in different career paths. Furthermore, alumni spoke on how their personal identities—being a person of color, first generation student, etc.—impacted high stakes decisions, such as study abroad, fellowships/scholarships, career path, or graduate education. The voice of alumni is pivotal for the students to hear, but also for faculty members, who then can amplify their message across students exploring major choices, or concluding their academic work.

The voice of alumni is pivotal for the students to hear, but also for faculty members, who then can amplify their message across students exploring major choices, or concluding their academic work. The Career Development Center relies on faculty as a source of explicit encouragement for students in their pursuit of summer experiences that test drive academic learning in action. The Faculty's voice in this process has been pivotal to also help identify students' funding needs. In turn, alumni and parents have stepped forward to help grow the Summer Internship fund in an unprecedented 1000% growth in the past 5 years. It has become a huge win-win-win for students, faculty, and alumni engagement. 

Franklin & Marshall College

Franklin & Marshall logo

In gathering feedback from current and perspective families, Institutional Research, advancement leaders, and admissions counselors, Beth Throne, associate vice president of Frankin & Marshall’s Office of Student and Post Graduate Development (OSPGD) decided to reorient her office’s annual report. Reflecting the significant commitment the college has made to supporting the career preparation and outcomes of its students, this piece now more clearly features detailed internship and post-graduate outcomes data (with knowledge rates), and points of distinction of the office. As such, her annual report has become a tool frequently used by admissions, athletics, media relations, and of course, in fundraising and employer relations tied to OSPGD. Each campus entity is now armed with more concrete and poignant data to share in their alumni and parent engagement initiatives. 

Colgate University

Colgate logo

Alumni pride is palpable at Colgate University. It is a driving force that maintains a high level of alumni and parent engagement, and it results in outstanding support for student initiatives. For the Career Services, Alumni Relations, and Advancement teams, finding new ways to stay relevant and instigating even greater engagement led to the creation of the Colgate Professional Networks. Under Director of Professional Networks Jen Stone, these ten interdisciplinary networks provide alumni-to-alumni career development, create recruiting and programmatic opportunities that benefit students, and serve as a fundraising tool. Assistant Vice President of Institutional Advancement & Director of Career Services Teresa Olsen has seen significant impact of these efforts over the first few years of this initiative. Unpaid internship grant funding has increased to nearly $700,000 this year, the number of formal recruiting partners has jumped significantly, and several hundred alumni who had not been engaged with Colgate in the past five years have found value in attending events, volunteering, or giving back financially. These efforts have increased the number of hands-on experiences that can be offered to students while also stroking pride and engagement among parents and alumni.

Each of these examples illustrates how career centers are finding ways to evolve traditional programs to move the needle forward on institutional priorities. Whether we focus on initiatives that leverage the benefits of existing alumni and parent engagement or on initiatives that cultivate further opportunities to engage, it is apparent that these collaborations have an impact on campus’ priorities that is far greater than a single entity could achieve. As a result, these institutions are thriving in new ways.


Want more on how Career Services offices can work with alumni? Read about how Binghamton University's Career Center partners with alumni to help students further their careers.